This is a fairly brisk Sibelius Second, and the overall mood of the work is brighter than in many other accounts. While this symphony is ultimately a triumphant one, there are many dark moments: parts of the first movement, most of the second and passages of struggle in the finale associated with the heroic alternate theme. In this recording conductor Pietari Inkinen (b. 1980), music director of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra since 2008, tamps down the darker elements in the symphony and smoothes off some of the jagged edges as well. Even the epic heroism comes across with less power: the big brass proclamations in the second movement are less assertive than is usual and the glorious main theme in the finale is stately and warm, rather than heroic and defiant.
From this description, you might think the performance is tame and bland, but it isn't: while Inkinen brightens the symphony's Romanticism and epic character, he often works up tension in his leaner textures and more driven pacing to impart a sense of urgency, making Sibelius sound far less finicky, far less meticulous than in so many other performances. While some successful Sibelius conductors, like Sir Colin Davis, convey more of an epic quality, more angst, they are not necessarily more convincing in this symphony. I'm sorry I missed the first two volumes in Inkinen's Sibelius series (containing Symphonies 1, 3, 4 and 5) because, if I can judge from this performance, they would certainly have been worthy acquisitions, not least because the orchestra plays with plenty of spirit here, even if there are a few imprecisions.
The chipper Karelia Suite gets an appropriately light treatment, though here tempos tend to be on the moderate side. Once again the orchestra plays with commitment. The sound on both works is excellent. Past recordings of the Sibelius Second of note are Davis/Philips, Davis/RCA, Monteux/Decca and Sakari/Naxos. There are also many good Karelia Suite recordings, and they include the fine Sakari/Naxos. In sum, this third entry in Inkinen's Sibelius cycle must be given a strong recommendation.
Copyright © 2011, Robert Cummings